Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Friday, 1 May 2009 12:01 UK

Swine flu couple 'feared dying'

Iain and Dawn Askham
Iain and Dawn Askham tested positive after their honeymoon in Mexico

The newly-weds who were the UK's first swine flu cases have spoken of how they feared they might die from the virus.

Iain Askham, of Polmont, near Falkirk, told the Daily Mail: "You try to stay calm but at the back of your mind there is the possibility that you might die."

He and wife Dawn believe they caught the virus on a flight back from Mexico.

Test results will reveal later whether a friend of theirs is the first person in the UK to have contracted the virus without having visited Mexico.

Onward transmission

The man was named by the Daily Mail as Graeme Pacitti, 24, who it said had been in contact with Mr Askham after their honeymoon.

He has been referred to as a "probable" case by Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon.

UK flu map

So far eight swine flu cases have been confirmed in the UK but this would represent the first case of onward transmission of the virus within the country.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Obviously the circumstances around this individual do give us cause for concern - the symptoms don't give us cause for concern, but the circumstances give us cause for concern."

Mr and Mrs Askham returned to their home on Thursday having been treated for five nights in separate isolation rooms at Monklands Hospital, Airdrie.

"It was particularly hard to bear, because I knew that Dawn was next door and that she wasn't well," Mr Askham told the newspaper.

"She was so close and yet I could not reach her. I just wanted to give her a cuddle and reassure her."

'Responding well'

The couple said they believed they contracted the virus on their flight back from Cancun, during which several passengers were coughing and sneezing.

The latest Britons to return from Mexico, about 300 people on a scheduled Thomas Cook flight, arrived at Gatwick on Friday morning.

Passengers told the BBC no one's temperature was taken - which differed from the screening process in the Mexican resort of Cancun - despite indications by the British government there would be enhanced health checks at UK airports.

Of the eight cases confirmed in the UK so far, three are in London, there has been one each in Newcastle upon Tyne and Redditch, Worcestershire, and a 12-year-old girl has tested positive in Paignton, Devon.

Graeme Pacitti (right) and Iain Askham
Graeme Pacitti (right) and Mr Askham play for the same football team

All of those diagnosed are thought to have responded well to treatment.

A total of 230 possible cases are being investigated in the UK.

Dr Alan McNally, senior lecturer and influenza diagnostics researcher at Nottingham Trent University, downplayed the significance of the suspected case linked to the Askhams.

"We know that [the flu] is transmitted from human to human, it has happened in other parts of the world and we know it will happen here.

"I know that there will be interest in it because members of the public will see that they don't need to have been to Mexico to get it."

Showing symptoms

Cases of swine flu have been confirmed in 12 countries across three continents.

Mexico: 168 suspected deaths, 12 confirmed
US: one death, at least 109 confirmed cases
New Zealand: 4 confirmed, 12 probable cases
Canada: 34 confirmed cases
Spain: 13 confirmed cases
UK: 8 confirmed cases
Germany: 3 confirmed cases
Israel, Costa Rica: 2 confirmed cases each
Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria: 1 confirmed case each

In cases outside Mexico, where 168 deaths are being linked to swine flu, the virus does not appear to be severe, although one death has been confirmed in the US.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has set its pandemic alert level at five - but says it has no immediate plans to move to the highest level of six.

A phase five alert means human-to-human transmission has occurred in at least two countries - so far it has happened in the US, Canada, Spain and Germany.

Prime Minster Gordon Brown said the UK was in a good position to cope with swine flu as he visited an NHS Direct centre in Beckenham, south-east London.

He echoed the comments of the Chief Medical Officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson, who said the country was well prepared.

"What we will see is many, many more cases, and inevitably some serious cases - but on the whole people make a good recovery from flu," Sir Liam added.

Gordon Brown: 'It is treatable'

It was impossible to predict how many deaths there could be in the UK until more was known about the strain of the swine flu virus, he said.

Sir Liam ruled out screening all British travellers returning from Mexico, saying it was more important to "concentrate the public health attention" on those showing symptoms.

BBC News health correspondent Jane Hughes says the spread of the virus might not take off until the autumn and the winter when people's resistance is lower.

Advertising campaign

Some 28 suspected cases are being investigated in Scotland.

There are so far no confirmed swine flu cases in Wales, although 19 people have been tested for the virus.

Six people in Northern Ireland have also been given anti-viral drugs as a precaution, but none of them has tested positive either.

On Thursday, health chiefs in the Irish Republic said one man had tested positive for swine flu - its first case.

Use clean tissues when you cough or sneeze
Bin tissues after use
Wash hands with soap, hot water or gel

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Precautions being taken in the UK include enhanced airport checks, an expansion of anti-viral stocks from 35 million to 50 million by the end of May, the ordering of extra face masks and delivery of information leaflets for every family.

Supplies of antibiotics are to be increased to deal with any complications arising as a result of flu infections.

An advertising campaign to help prevent the spread of the virus has also been launched.

The Department of Health's Catch it, Bin it, Kill it! adverts urge people to cover coughs and sneezes with tissues, throw them away and wash their hands.

Meanwhile, the WHO has announced it will call the virus influenza A (H1N1), rather than swine flu, which it says is misleading as pork meat is safe and the virus is being transmitted from human to human.

Members of the public can call 0800 1513513 for recorded information about swine flu. In Scotland, anyone with concerns about the virus can call 08454 24 24 24.


An advertising campaign urges people to catch the sneeze before binning the tissue

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